Canadian JJ Shiplett is a roots-country artist with a decade long career. This project, born following Shiplett’s 2nd full LP (Fingers Crossed – dropped March 2020) at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 8-song EP Crossed Fingers (drops Aug 21 – Red Buffalo Records) & offers a raw recreation, a mirror of the full production LP & strips away the production gloss.
The 27-minute EP can be streamed or purchased but is not available yet on CD. “Waiting on the Rain” is a well-written pensive piano version played extremely bright. The deep-voiced Shiplett annunciates well. Tapers his song like a novelist paces his chapters. Not necessarily a recipe for commercial hits, but there’s substance.
What JJ lacks at this junction is a good producer (both the full LP & EP). He’s created good music, but a viable producer knows what sells. What won’t. When you should walk the curb of the sidewalk & not a tightrope.
A poor producer won’t help. Poor producers have damaged great artists: Timi Yuro, Gene Mcdaniels, & Brook Benton. All should’ve had major careers. But, too many strings, over-produced, bad song selection, lack of promotion contributes to poor sales. Finding the right team takes research. Shiplett needs also to find a niche to write about. Springsteen, Waits, Prine, Cohen, Mellencamp, & Willie Nile (NYC) – all had niches. This is why their careers lasted.
“Closer” is claustrophobic on the full LP. But good lyrics & melody on this stripped version — far superior. On the LP it may have been too “heavy” & an issue of production. Criticism: don’t sing “closer” with a hard r. Sing it melodically, with an “r” pronounced as “uh” – “close-uh” much easier to hold the note on a vowel or “uh” than a hard r. Good lyricist’s try to never end a line that needs a note held. Words ending in an r are seldom used to end a line. The song will be far less grating. Listen to Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday.” It’s “yesta-day.” But avoid Frankie Valli’s “Grease.” Horrific.
“Northern Lights,” is a typical song title sung in a style already made famous by Steve Earle. “Need Her in the Worst Way,” would’ve been a better intriguing title. The music’s solid, well played but the lyrics “she dances like the northern lights” — plausible but cliched.
“Stand On,” is atmospheric with a vocal, not JJ’s best. Intonation, better phrasing & tone needs to rescue this song. He’s singing in a key that makes him sound strained. JJ does have soul in his voice. It’s also the reason vocalists try out songs live before recording them. This lesson could be learned by listening more to The Band’s Levon Helm.
“Every Road,” is a strong closer. Steve Earle-type vocal but Shiplett needs caution over-emoting. He’s better in his lower register than his dramatic high – used too often. He’s not Lee Michaels. The bonus “Blue Jay Highway” is a great acoustic tune. Showcases a warmer Shiplett. John Prine-Gordon Lightfoot quality. Available at https://www.jjshiplett.com/